Book Review: A Practical Handbook for Divine Services

Last Spring, Holy Trinity Publications, (the publishing arm of the monastery in Jordanville), made available A Practical Handbook for Divine Services.  This is  really a compilation of detailed instructional notes for the priest and deacon (with a few notes for servers) at Vespers, Matins, and the Divine Liturgy in the Slav-Byzantine tradition, penned by the late Abbot Gregory (Woolfenden), a priest and liturgical scholar from the northwest of England.  A number of the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate's Diocese of Sourozh, to which Fr Gregory once belonged, remember these and other liturgical notes with gratitude, for Fr Gregory used to hand them out at diocesan clergy meetings, and many a new clergyman would have been lost without them.

I bought a copy of this book last summer and found it immensely helpful in understanding some of the actions of the priest and deacon at our divine services.  It is particularly helpful to me as somebody who, while knowing the general roles, does not have much experience of services at which a deacon is present and serving.  Despite the fact that our services rely heavily on the deacon and can seldom be offered fully without one, the reality is that most Orthodox people - clergy and laity alike - are unaccustomed to having a deacon present, and when one is fulfilling his duty, it shows: priests who are accustomed to doing everything themselves forget where the end of their role lies and where that of the deacon begins (or perhaps, due to having served only a short diaconate, they never learnt in the first place), choirs forget (or are possibly unaware of) the different responses and methods that are employed when the Liturgy is served with a deacon, and so forth.

This is but one of a number of difficulties that would be ironed out with clear instruction, and Fr Gregory's handbook certainly provides this.  He establishes some general principles before following through the daily cycle of services step by step, detailing with immense clarity everything from vesting, reverences, prayers, censings, right up until the dismissal.  Where there are variations in practice, these are mentioned in the appendices so as not to clutter the text and confuse the reader unnecessarily.  Each section has its own appendix (which is really a collection of what would usually be footnotes but which are so extensive that they would overtake the page if included underneath the main text). There is even a section for the Liturgy of the Pre-Hallowed Gifts, of which many clergy in the missions have little experience and which is often not served outside of cathedrals, monasteries, and larger city parishes. All in all, I think this is a necessity for English-speaking clergy to learn or to refresh their memories, and for anybody seeking better comprehension of the ceremonial actions of the services.

Having said that, this work is not without its critics, and there are those clergy who are knowledgeable about Russian liturgics who claim that the book bears some inaccuracies. I am no expert so can only speculate as to the nature of these disagreements, although I, myself, have spotted two points on which my experience and reading differ from Fr Gregory's direction. They may simply reflect regional variations in practice (Russia is not a tiny place, and the young church of the diaspora was made up of people from many areas who took different customs with them).

Of course, the differences may also be due to the author's past as a Uniate priest. Readers may be aware that, after many centuries of latinisation, the eastern-rite churches subject to Rome have been encouraged by two successive popes (Messrs Wojtyla and Ratzinger) to return to their eastern roots, both in terms of liturgics and devotional culture. In some churches, such as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church, of which Fr Gregory was a priest before becoming Orthodox, this has taken the form of a return in many areas to the precise letter of the typikon, even on points where living Orthodox custom has developed beyond that. Therefore, in videos from the fascinating church of St Elias in Canada, for instance, we witness practices that are only to be found in rubrics in most of the Orthodox Church: the two choirs joining and parting at specific times, deacons fanning the Gifts throughout the Anaphora, censings performed in a cross-wise fashion, and so forth. Perhaps Fr Gregory's notes reflect the typikon on other points that are less obviously no longer followed. Again, this is merely speculation on my part.

Whatever the differences may be, surely they can only be minor, and any points requiring clarification can be referred to the bishop for his direction. Whatever disagreements there may be, I am certain that the Church in the English-speaking world, where many of the traditional means of training the clergy are difficult to encounter, is better off with this book than without it, and that we ought to be grateful for Father Gregory's labour of love.

May his memory be eternal!

8 responses:

Anonymous said...

.."choirs forget (or are possibly unaware of) the different responses and methods that are employed when the Liturgy is served with a deacon".

Greetings Michael. How so? I've noticed no difference when our deacon is absent.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I forgot to say it's John Konstantin above. I've ordered the book. Just waiting on it's arrival :)


Michael Astley said...

Welcome back, brother subdeacon! :-)

The differences from the choir's point of view are relatively minor and will differ from one jurisdiction to another.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference is at the end of the priest's prayer of the thrice-holy, which is read after the Lesser Entrance, during the troparia and kontakia. At the end of the prayer, there is the exclamation, which takes the following form:

Priest: For holy art Thou, O our God, and unto Thee do we send up glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever...
Deacon: O Lord, save the pious and hearken unto us!
People: O Lord, save the pious and hearken unto us!
Deacon: ...and unto the ages of ages.
People: Amen.

In ROCOR and parts of OCA, where the pre-revolutionary Russian custom is followed, the deacon's "O Lord, save the pious..." with its response is omitted if there is no deacon, and the priest simply continues with "and unto the ages of ages", so a choir unfamiliar with the Liturgy at which a deacon serves needs to be ready to give the response if a deacon is present. This will not be an issue in the Moscow Patriarchate because when the "O Lord, save the pious..." was restored in 1997 (having been deleted from the Liturgy shortly after the revolution), it was with the instruction that it was always to be done, even in the absence of a deacon. These lines, (which, in their original form of "O Lord save the king..." [psalm 19:9] go right back to the cathedral liturgy of Agia Sofia, where they were intoned as the emperor ascended the throne), disappeared from the Greek Liturgy some time after the fall of the "Byzantine" empire, so are not heard in modern Greek practice.

Michael Astley said...

The other main differences (not dealt with by Fr Gregory, IIRC, as he assumes a deacon will be there) have to do with timings. For almost all of the litanies, while the deacon is giving the petitions and the people are responding, the priest is to be offering a prayer quietly. The priest's exclamation heard at the end of the litany is actually the end of this prayer. If there is no deacon, the priest must give the petitions himself, allowing no time for him to say his prayers. If there are concelebrating priests, this becomes less of a problem but most parishes do not have the luxury of multiple priests. A number of solutions are adopted in different places, with varying degrees of inadequacy. Among them:

- Simply omit the priest's prayers - This is unacceptable, in my view. Habitually leaving out chunks of the Liturgy is always suspect, and this workaraound means that the end of the prayer is chanted despite no prayer actually having been said.
- Have the priest say the prayers during the antiphons that follow the litanies - This at least means that the prayers get said. However, it also means that the prayer is being said after the conclusion of the selfsame prayer has already been exclaimed and the people's "Amen" given. Also, this only works for the first three litanies. The remaining litanies in the Liturgy have no such antiphon following them, and the problem remains.
- Have the priest pray the entire mystikos prayer as an exclamation at the end of each litany. - This is undesirable, to my thinking. The habitual reading aloud of the mystikos prayers flies in the face of our Orthodox liturgical tradition. There is a good piece about this here.

The method commonly adopted in the Russian church (and explicitly stated in the rubrics of some liturgical books) is to have the choir sing a particular one of the litany responses very slowly during each litany. This gives the priest enough time to pray the prayer to God completely and reverently, without omission or hurried garbling.

The same approach is taken, for instance, at the prayer with bowed heads after the Lord's Prayer. If a deacon serves, after the priest's "Peace be unto all", the priest immediately begins the mystikos prayer, while the people respond, "And to thy spirit", and the deacon slowly intones "Bow your heads unto the Lord". If there is no deacon, the priest must wait until after "And to thy spirit" to give this direction himself, meaning that the choir must sing the response, "To Thee, O Lord", very slowly in order to give the priest a chance to actually say the prayer.

Having a book like this and seeing what the priest and deacon have to do may help choirs to see how what they do fits in with what is going on in the altar, and how best to cover and assist the action with their music.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks Sbdcn Michael. My copy has now arrived and I look forward to dipping into it. John Konstantin.

der Doktor said...

Unfortunately the book was published with a copyright infringement.

Augustinus said...

I've seen a video of a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy in Russia where the fans are also moved

(Go to the final seconds of the video.)

Michael Astley said...

Thank you for this, Augustinus. And welcome! :-)

The ordination of a new deacon is the time that the rubric is most commonly observed, although I have seen exceptions even to this.

I like fans.

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